Lot 43
  • 43

Carleton E. Watkins

150,000 - 250,000 USD
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  • Carleton E. Watkins
  • Mammoth-plate albumen print
  • 15 1/4 x 21 1/4 inches
mammoth-plate albumen print, mounted, the photographer’s letterpress label, with the title, series number ‘861,’ New Series title, and his ‘San Francisco’ studio address, affixed to the mount, Gordon L. Bennett’s collection stamp on the reverse, matted, framed, a Monterey Museum of Art exhibition label on the reverse, framed, 1878-81


The Old Book Store, San Francisco, 1967

Collection of Gordon L. Bennett, Kentfield, California

Sotheby’s New York, The Gordon L. Bennett Collection of Carleton Watkins New Series Photographs of Yosemite, 28 April 2004, Sale 7966, Lot 49


San Francisco, Focus Gallery, Early Views of Yosemite and the California Missions: Photographs by Carleton E. Watkins from the Collection of Gordon Bennett, November-December 1973

Fort Worth, Amon Carter Museum, Carleton E. Watkins: Photographer of the American West, April-May 1983; and thereafter to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, June-August 1983; The St. Louis Art Museum, September-October 1983; and The Oakland Museum, December 1983-February 1984

Monterey Museum of Art, Carleton E. Watkins: Yosemite Photographs, Courtesy of Gordon L. Bennett, June-September 1993

Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Yosemite: Then and Now,  October 2010-January 2011


Naef 256

Peter Palmquist, Carleton E. Watkins, Photographer of the American West, p. xv and pl. 64 (this print)


This is a dramatic, exceedingly rich print, with beautiful, deep tones. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 representing the richest albumen print, we would rate this photograph a 10, or if possible, even higher. The tones are strong throughout. This is a stunning print. In the upper right quadrant, near the right vertical edge, there is a small, slightly-larger-than-pinhead-sized white spot, which appears to be a spot of uneven coating in the albumen emulsion. In high raking light, one can see a few horizontal snake-like surface patterns, which we assume to have occurred during the mounting process. As these are consistent with the same patterns in other prints in this series offered here, we believe these to be intrinsic to the mounting process. These are only visible in very high raking light, and do not impact upon the extraordinary beauty of this image.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

This mammoth-plate albumen photograph was acquired at the landmark Gordon Bennett Watkins sale held in these rooms in 2004.  Originally part of an album, likely unique, of forty Watkins ‘New Series’ views of Yosemite, the print offered here is believed to be one of only four prints of the image extant.  Its rich tonality and near-pristine condition make it an exceptional representative of this segment of Watkins’s oeuvre.

The promontory known as Glacier Point rises 3,200 feet above the floor of Yosemite Valley and provides a stunning view of Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls, as well as a large expanse of the Valley’s north rim.  Watkins first photographed from this vantage point in the 1860s, and he may well have been responsible for the name Glacier Point at that time.  In ‘Carleton E. Watkins in Yosemite Valley, 1861-66: Geological Theory and Photographic Practice’ (History of Photography, Vol. 20, No. 1, 1996), Paul Hickman points out that Glacier Point appears on the mounts of Watkins photographs as early as 1865, and no prior citations have been found. Keenly interested in the scientific developments of his day, Watkins would have been aware of Clarence King’s theory of the glacial formation of Yosemite, and this may have inspired him to call the promontory Glacier Point—a point from which evidence of an ancient glacier and its movement through the Valley could be seen.

In contrast to his views of Yosemite from the 1860s, the photographs made by Watkins when he returned to the Valley in the late 1870s show a photographer who has evolved from skillful documentarian to masterful artist, working with his mammoth-plate camera in a more conceptual way.  Photographs from this ‘New Series’ of Yosemite, exemplified by the photograph offered here, are characterized above all by stylistic deliberation.  Far scarcer than Watkins’s work from the 1860s, the ‘New Series’ expands Watkins’s importance to the photography of the nineteenth century.  As Martha Sandweiss describes the present image, it ‘is less a statement about a distinct place than it is a brilliant study in abstract form . . . The photograph breaks down into three powerful shapes: the sky, the distant mountain walls, and the dark form of the rock formation which, despite its foreground position, seems to recede into distant space.  It is elegant, simple, bold’ (in Palmquist, pp. xv-xvi).